People Are the Design Margin

Benjamin Wallace-Wells asked in the New Yorker why America needs the Cajun navy; why the Texas disaster instead of emphasizing the importance of Climate Change and greater government funding has perversely glorified community volunteerism with deleterious effect. "There is a cyclic pattern to the erosion of faith in government, in which politics saps the state’s capacity to protect people, and so people put their trust in other institutions (churches; self-organizing volunteer navies), and are more inclined to support anti-government politics."

But perhaps it's not such a bad thing.  Government can only ever be sized to average emergencies budgetary reasons. When real trouble comes they'll need help.  One such potential oversized disaster is an electromagnetic pulse attack that may someday be launched against the US by North Korea.

A federal commission tasked to study the problem in 2004 concluded that a nuclear weapon detonated high above on the United States could potentially disable "electrical power systems, electronics, and information systems upon which American society depends.... unprecedented cascading failures of our major infrastructures could result. In that event, a regional or national recovery would be long and difficult and would seriously degrade the safety and overall viability of our Nation." The resulting damage from a so-called "Black Sky" event would simply be too big for government to fix.

Recognizing this FEMA has adopted the strategy of partnering with the private sector  to conduct what is essentially a giant damage control drill.

Concerns have grown over the potential for severe malicious or natural “Black Sky” hazards associated with subcontinent scale, long duration power outages, with cascading failure of all our other increasingly interdependent infrastructures. This creates a grim and difficult dilemma: Restoration of any sector will only be possible with at least minimal operation of all the others.

To deal with this deadlock, careful sector by sector and cross-sector resilience planning is crucial. However, such plans, to be effective, must be exercised. With the diversity and the national and global scale of the infrastructures we now depend on, this requires an unprecedented, multi-sector, national and international exercise series.

There are just some things too big for bureaucracies to handle. 'Cajun navies' are also useful because there are also things government does not know how to do, like keeping existing supply chains running. The story of how the H.E.B. grocery chain kept 60 of its 83 stores open and stocked in the face of one the worst storms in centuries is management case study material. They tracked the storm to determine which cities it would most likely hit. They drew down on frozen food and upped their inventory of canned goods. They organized car, boat, truck and even helicopter pools. They sacrificed variety for quantity. In a word they did what only grocery people would know and the average bureaucrat would not.  And they did it better than government conceivably could.